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Maternity Guilt

maternity guilt

When I found out I was pregnant in June 2020 I was overjoyed – after a few years fighting fertility issues, undergoing some major surgery and suffering a miscarriage, my husband and I were finally expecting. I had all of the emotions sweep through me that you’d imagine you’d get when finding out you were pregnant. Joy, Anxiety, Nervousness, Fear… the lot! What I didn’t expect to feel though was maternity guilt.

You’ve heard of Mother’s guilt, right? A lot of Mum’s feel this when returning to work once maternity leave is over, having spent months of time one-on-one with their baby only for that to abruptly come to a halt and the 9-5 to be resumed, leaving the baby with family or other childcare arrangements. My little one is just over a month old and already I dread the day I drop him off at nursery!

So I’d heard of Mother’s guilt, but I had no idea that I’d also feel maternity guilt. The guilt of being away from work and taking a 9-month break from my career. The guilt doesn’t come from any pressure or disappointment from my workplace – in fact, they were overjoyed by my pregnancy news too and were accommodating and super helpful when putting my maternity plans into place. The guilt came from within, and it also came from an unnerving feeling of being out of my usual routine, the FOMO (fear of missing out) on projects and tasks (I bloody love my job and the team!) and it came from the fact that I haven’t been out of work for this length of time in my entire life. The idea of being away for nearly a year made me feel a type of way that I’ve only just come to grips with. And as I searched the internet to find out if other people felt the way I do, I was relieved to find that I was not alone.

Evidence from a variety of countries reveals that the longer new mothers are away from paid work, the less likely they are to be promoted, move into management, or receive a pay raise once their leave is over. They are also at greater risk of being fired or demoted. Length of leave can be a factor in the perceptions of co-workers as well – women who take longer leaves are often seen as less committed to their jobs than women who take much shorter leaves. This trade-off undercuts a major goal of legislating national parental leave policies: ensuring that women don’t have to choose between motherhood and career success. –

When I put it out there that I was concerned about falling behind or being out of the loop whilst on maternity leave, I was inundated by family and friends telling me that work would be the last thing on my mind once my little boy was here. They told me to enjoy my maternity leave and that it goes in the blink of an eye. Whilst that might be true, I didn’t find that work left my mind once my baby was here and I actually found work a welcome distraction from the monotony of changing, feeding and rocking a baby to sleep! Whilst I’m filled with love looking at my beautiful son, I also found that I needed those keeping in touch days for my own sanity, to use my brain for something other than baby-related tasks and that it meant I felt I still had a purpose beyond being a mother. Whilst I have never feared for my job whilst putting my maternity plans into place, the worry of being ‘left behind’ is never far from your mind and it’s hard to let go of your old routine, especially as a first time Mum. 

I am two months into my maternity leave (out of nine) and already I have been chomping at the bit to use my keeping in touch days. I check my emails (more often than I probably should), I get the Teams notifications and I am still reading up on industry-related content to keep in the loop and to stay up to date. I am so excited to get back to work full time in December and get stuck back in, after all, digital marketing is one of those industries that is ever-changing and evolving, no two days are the same and it’s a career that allows me to constantly learn: The very reasons I fell in love with the industry in the first place.

When you’re a new mother, it feels like everyone wants a piece of you — literally, figuratively, and emotionally. Add physiological changes, a lack of sleep, and hormonal fluctuations into that mix and it’s easy to understand why returning to work after maternity leave can be one of the most fraught, challenging, and stressful times in a woman’s life. –

I am realistic that going back to work as a mother means it won’t be the same. I’m going to have to work my career around my new responsibilities, I’m going to have to prioritise and fit things in around my family and I know that a new routine will have to be established. I’m particularly lucky that flexible working has become more commonplace due to the COVID19 pandemic and that home working has become more established with the opportunity to go into the office when necessary – it certainly makes my personal circumstances easier. I am looking forward to the challenge of navigating my new life and making it work for me.

There’s still an established perception that we’ve inherited from previous generations, a bias in fact, that being successful within your career will, and even sometimes should, be in direct conflict with motherhood. –

I wish more working Mum’s realised that in this day and age we really can have it all. Women shouldn’t have to make a choice between their career and having a family, yet so many of us are stuck with this dilemma and made to feel like we can’t have both. We can, we absolutely can, it just means taking a more flexible approach to working life and surrounding ourselves with the support needed to achieve it.

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